Don Gil of the Green Breeches is the first in a series of three plays at the Arcola Theatre (performed by one ensemble) as part of the Spanish Golden Age Season with the Theatre Royal Bath and Belgrade Theatre Coventry, celebrating the works of two Baroque dramatists: Tirso de Molina and Lope de Vega. The former was the dramatist behind the first known presentation of the Don Juan legend on stage (El Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra) and is thus one of Spain’s most celebrated theatrical leaders.
De Molina's Don Gil bears some similarity to Don Juan, including character names, scorned lovers and mistaken identities, but this is very much an eccentric comedy filled with hyperbolic characters as colourful as their costumes – the titular green breeches especially. When Dona Juana’s lover, the dashing Don Martin, leaves her for the wealthy dowry of Dona Ines, she follows him to Madrid dressed as a man to woo his new lover and thwart his plans. What follows is an intricate and entangled web of lies and deceit full of cross-dressing, mistaken identities and manipulation – a world in which the women have power. As such, De Vega’s work pushes the boundaries of his theatrical form to question social injustice and gender relations.
This production from director Mehmet Ergen (presented in witty and authentic translation from Sean O’Brien) is a hilarious romp filled with passionate Spanish flair – from the rainbow of period costumes, to the flamenco style dancing and Spanish guitar soundtrack. The cast are wonderfully expressive, though their cartoonish behaviour does sometimes border on over-the-top, with some modernisms creeping in. At the centre is Hedydd Dylan as the scheming Dona Juana, ably aided by the comically camp Quintana (Chris Andrew Melion), together always one step ahead of Doug Rao’s moustachioed Don Martin. It’s the peripheral characters who most amuse however, from Katie Lightfoot’s brilliantly stompy and bratty Ines, to Annie Hemingway’s fidgety bespectacled Donna Clara, Simon Scardifield’s hapless Don Juan constantly adjusting his rosette, and Jim Bywater’s crude servant Caramanchel whose asides to the audience are filled with racy innuendo.
De Molina perhaps didn’t imagine his play to be performed in quite such a camp manner, though it’s certainly warranted by the gender role-reversals at the play’s core. Don Gil is an uproarious night of entertainment and, alongside the remaining two plays of the season, pays suitable homage to Spain’s theatrical legacy.
Watch: Don Gil runs alongside Punishment Without Revenge and A Lady of Little Sense at the Arcola Theatre from January 9th to March 15th.